World Health Day 2018

5 April 2018, New Delhi, India

Your Excellency Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia; valued partners and distinguished guests from government and non-government sectors; WHO Representative to India Dr Henk Bekedam and WHO colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I welcome you to this World Health Day function.

As you know, World Health Day is our Organization’s birthday. It is a significant day for each of us, our professional commitment and the journey we are on. For most, that commitment and journey is deeply personal.

But today is also a day of immense significance for public health advocates the world over, whether in government or the private sector, as individual citizens or activists.

This year’s World Health Day is special. It is special not only because it marks 70 years since WHO’s creation, but because its theme is universal health coverage, or UHC – a theme for which inclusiveness is fundamental. I am pleased to have a number of partners and friends join us to mark the occasion.

Nevertheless, let me be forthright from the outset – UHC’s promise is bold: that all people can access quality health services, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.

We know the benefits. UHC is central to improving health and well-being – a fundamental human right. Healthier populations in turn create more productive economies that raise living standards. UHC also strengthens health security by making it easier to contain the spread of infectious disease and respond effectively to natural disasters. The case for UHC is decisive: health, equity, development and security. UHC’s revolutionary promise can – and must – be fully harnessed.

Importantly, UHC is feasible. A number of countries in our Region have already made significant progress. They began doing so when they were designated ‘low-income’. No country starts from zero. There are always opportunities to move ahead.

The pursuit of UHC is of great relevance to our Region. Around half our Region’s population lacks full coverage of essential health services. Some 65 million are pushed into extreme poverty, due primarily to out-of-pocket payments for medicines, especially for noncommunicable diseases.

In noting these challenges, Your Excellencies, valued friends, partners and dear colleagues, I nevertheless commend you all. In recent years each one of you has integrated core UHC principles in your work. Your efforts to do so have already had life-changing impact for some of the Region’s most vulnerable groups.

In Bangladesh the strengthening of health services delivery – including routine immunization – has proven crucial to the ongoing emergency response.

Bhutan has meanwhile provided much-needed diagnosis and care to persons suffering NCDs, providing a compelling example of how NCD services can be integrated at the primary level.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has effectively harnessed traditional medicine to increase trust and confidence in the health care system. This initiative will give many times over.

Just recently India committed to significant budgetary increases that will dramatically enhance the quality and reach of health services at all levels.

Since 2014 Indonesia has pioneered one of the world’s largest health insurance schemes, making essential care affordable to all.

Maldives has put substantial effort into increasing health literacy, ensuring that all people are empowered to make health-positive choices that lead to longer, happier lives.

Myanmar has now introduced a system to register every child born in the country – an initiative that will help ensure all children can access the care they need, when they need it.

Nepal’s mobile health clinics have brought modern medical care to the most remote communities, in the hardest-to-reach places, to help ensure no one is left behind.

Sri Lanka is in the process of reorganizing its already strong primary health care system to meet looming challenges such as NCDs and an ageing population.

In recent years Thailand has shown itself a world leader in driving down out-of-pocket spending, particularly on medicines.

And Timor-Leste’s Saude na Familia programme has seen teams of health workers fan-out across the country to reach each and every household with essential medical care.

Excellencies, partners and colleagues,

As many of you know, since 2014 UHC has been one of our Region’s Flagship Priorities – a Priority we have pursued with drive and ambition. As far back as 2014, for example, Region-wide needs were identified. Those needs include improving the availability, education and performance of health workers to ensure they can face present and emerging challenges. They also include retaining health workers in rural and hard-to-reach areas.

Adapting frontline services to meet the requirements of the Region’s ageing populations, as well as the growing burden of NCDs, has likewise been a crucial point of focus. That can be well understood: Apart from the Region-wide shift to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, by 2020 more of the Region’s population will be over 60 than under-5.

Increasing access to essential medicines has also been fundamental. Innovative mechanisms such as the South-East Asia Regulatory Network, which pools the Region’s regulatory resources, will go a long way to helping make safe, good quality medicines and medical products accessible to all. So will initiatives to improve affordability, such as sharing information on the price of medicines and taking steps towards pooled procurement.

In each of these areas and more, I am pleased to say: Together we have made progress. According to the latest data, health services coverage has improved in each of the Region’s 11 Member countries. That is to be celebrated.

Nevertheless, Excellencies and partners, friends and colleagues, we have a long way to go. As I mentioned at the outset, around half the Region’s population lacks full coverage of essential health services.

Our challenge is indeed formidable.

In saying that, we must always remember that progress is at all times possible – that UHC is a goal that we will realize progressively, sometimes with rapid, ground-breaking strides; sometimes via gradual though crucial reform.

As our achievements to date demonstrate, there are always opportunities to advance health coverage. Given that each of you is invested in UHC you must grasp those opportunities. You must build on our momentum and take full advantage of WHO Director General Dr Tedros’ drive and support for achieving UHC.

As the Global Programme of Work outlines, that begins at the country level. It begins at the grassroots. It begins with the strength of our partnerships and our joint commitment and determination.

Indeed, today, on World Health Day, we must reflect on and resolve always to work towards achieving UHC’s promise. A promise that is bold yet simple, and will change the lives of millions of people across the Region and beyond: health coverage that is universal. Health coverage that is for all people everywhere and which leaves no one behind.

Thank you very much.

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